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Pasco high schools say yes to resuming pep rallies, homecoming dances

A month ago, superintendent Kurt Browning lamented high positivity rates and low mask use.
Students in the Gulf High class of 2023 show their school spirit in a float they created for the annual homecoming parade in 2019. They haven't had many similar activities since then, but got permission for dances and pep rallies this week.
Students in the Gulf High class of 2023 show their school spirit in a float they created for the annual homecoming parade in 2019. They haven't had many similar activities since then, but got permission for dances and pep rallies this week. [ Michele Miller ]
Published Sep. 17

Pasco County public high school students got a small piece of normalcy handed back to them on Friday.

“We received an email from our assistant superintendent saying that pep rallies and dances are permitted at this time,” Mitchell High School principal Jessica Schultz said.

The brief note, with the added message to “have a fantastic day,” came less than a month after superintendent Kurt Browning complained about low mask usage amid rising case positivity rates for the coronavirus.

But lately, Browning has said the rates are headed in the opposite direction. For the three most recent dates available, the district reported an average of 115 cases daily in schools. The count dropped from 135 students on Tuesday to 89 on Thursday.

On the first three days of the month, the district averaged 157 cases daily.

Despite calls from some parents to impose a mask requirement, the School Board has maintained a mask-optional policy and made no moves to change it.

Allowing schools to hold dances, which didn’t occur last year, offered the opportunity to get students involved positively on their campuses, where engagement has been low, assistant superintendent Monica Ilse said.

“We had stakeholders reaching out. We had students reaching out,” Ilse said. “Ultimately, those are events they can choose to attend or not attend.”

She noted that if the schools did not hold the activities, “they were going to happen one way or the other.” So officials decided to bridge the gap between the community and the schools by sponsoring the events.

Schools took no time in alerting students and families about the change. They posted celebratory messages on social media within minutes of getting the news.

“WE CAN DANCE!!!!!” River Ridge High School wrote on Twitter, alongside a GIF of Carlton from Fresh Prince of Bel Air dancing.

Cypress Creek High announced the dates for its pep rally and dance, while Pasco High went for a less is more approach, posting “Pasco Homecoming 2021, Further details to come ...”

Some parents cheered the news, calling the announcement “amazing” in Facebook groups. Others deemed the idea “outrageous,” suggesting super-spreader events were in the offing.

At least one observed that allowing dances was “weird,” considering college fairs had recently been called off because of the pandemic.

Schultz said she believed the schools can pull off the events.

“I’m glad that we’re going to be able to have students experience some of the traditional high school events that have been postponed or canceled because of the pandemic,” she said.

At the same time, she acknowledged concerns about the virus that still exist, and said she would work with student council and others to create an environment that can be safe while letting everyone celebrate.

“I don’t want kids to get sick,” Shultz said. “This might actually improve the morale among kids and parents and families.”

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